Every Monday a scripture portion arrives in my email.

Major Israel Velazquez sends it.  Major Israel is a retired Salvation Army Officer.  He  and his wife, Major Wilma, served many years in some of the Midwest’s largest cities.  Their ministry was Salvation Army programs for adults with substance abuse problems.

This morning this verse came and right away I knew what it was saying to me.

ACTS 26:16;18 (VOICE)

Get up now, and stand upright on your feet. I have appeared to you for a reason. I am appointing you to serve Me. You are to tell My story and how you have now seen Me, and you are to continue to tell the story in the future. It will be your mission to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God. This is so that they may receive forgiveness of all their sins and have a place among those who are set apart for a holy purpose through having faith in Me.”

Earlier at breakfast Gail and I talked about what happened on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.  Witnesses strongly disagree on some points.

But on one point the most reliable witnesses agree that Michael Brown charged at Officer Darren Wilson.

What in the world was going on in Michael Brown’s head?

We will never really know.  But Gail and I feel we have a better than average guess what was going on.  Michael Brown had enough.

Sure, there is a supporting cast of contributing factors. Petty larceny.  Tensions in and unique to Ferguson.  Decades-long tensions in America between its powers-that-be and American people who have no part in the America of those powers.  I’m sure you can add to the list.

But he had enough.

There is no other explanation for why in the middle of a hot summer day a black man would run down the middle of the street directly at a white policeman holding a gun.

He’d had enough.

***

 

“open their eyes.”  It’s my responsibility to open their eyes.  Maybe your responsibility too.

There are many people in America who do not see.  They don’t understand the oppressive weight on those who do not have a place in America.  They do not see the overt and covert oppression visited on individuals, families, communities.  They don’t know, really know, people who live with this weight.  They don’t get it.

We have a responsibility.  We are to open their eyes.  That they might turn from darkness to light and from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God.

In turning comes forgiveness of sin.  In turning they find a place.  Not in the systems and structures of this world’s powers.  They may already be in those places.

‘place’ in Jesus’ words, later recounted by the Apostle Paul when forced to stand as a prisoner before authorities, is a place where God’s people discover they are set apart for a holy purpose.  God’s purpose for his people.  To talk of.  To live for.  To bring full life to human beings.  “I have come that they may have life” (John 10:10).  God calls his people to join his mission.

We have a responsibility.

To people who have just gotten too tired of it all.  Had enough.

We have a responsibility for people who don’t get it.  Whose eyes need to be opened.

People on both sides of the road.

A few years ago my daughter Kirsten gave me this Matteo Pericoli book.

It sits on the shelf near my writing table.  On the other side is a window facing the alley.  It is my window view just as Pericoli’s line drawings present window views from the apartments of 63 notable New Yorkers who also give a few words about what their windows reveal.  Rosanne Cash, David Byrne, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Junot Diaz.  IMG_4144

From my table I can look into much of our neighbor’s backyard.  Last night I looked up from reading and saw a little girl in that yard just as she looked up from play and saw me.  It’s a bit unnerving to see another person see you.  We both looked away.

Paul Goldberger writes in his introduction to The City Out My Window that the drawings and statements give “to some extent, a comment about privacy, and the tension between public and private life that is an essential element of city existence.”  I find it so.

The front room of our home faces the street.  I enjoy watching the street scene out of the window.  A beautiful sycamore tree.  The tower of St Francis a quarter mile away.  Brick buildings across the street in sunlight by day and streetlight by night.  And people walking along the sidewalk that is no more than ten feet away from our window.  Sometimes we happen to see each other seeing each other.  I hear their conversations, St Francis’ clock bell on the quarter hours, the wind rustling the sycamore.

Upstairs our window faces the same direction as the window by my writing table.  But from it I never view neighbors.  It provides a static scene of buildings in which only the weather is changeable.  IMG_4141

Just now.  St Francis tolls nine bells.

Within the hour, before I climb upstairs, I will look at the bell tower.  It and the sycamore and the night lit brick walls will serve as my urban ‘Good Night Moon’.

My city view will help bring closure for the day.  Just as does the setting sun in an outdoors life.

 

 

I am a little sad this evening.

This afternoon I pulled off the shelf my copy of Kennon Callahan’s Small, Strong Congregations:  Creating Strengths and Health for Your Congregation.  It is a book I used for several years in Chicago as an instructor of men and women preparing to become Salvation Army Officers.

I needed it today for a project I am working on. The project deals with how we can determine whether or not local Salvation Army units are being effective for our part in the mission of God in the world.  Missio Dei.  Determining so will help us also determine how to wisely invest resources.

Curious.  Where in this world is Dr. Callahan these days?  Google.

I found this information at the Mission Leaders Network site –

For nearly 30 years, the Seminar for Pastors and Key Leaders has gathered persons come from all over the United States and from Canada for learning, sabbath and conversation. 2017 will be the final week-long gathering at Callaway Gardens.

This final week-long gathering took place last month in Georgia.

This makes me a little sad.  I’ve been an advocate for what Callahan has discovered and shown the Church, including not a few Salvation Army folks, about what it means to be God’s people in mission in His beloved world.

Years ago Gail and I led a Salvation Army unit on Chicago’s westside, the Chicago Temple Corps, at the corner of Madison and Ogden.  Our eight years there was certainly one of our most memorable life experiences.  We were greatly helped by Dr. Callahan’s Twelve Keys To An Effective Church.  Thank you, Ed Homer, for bringing it to us.

Even if Kennon L. Callahan does not conduct another seminar, write another book, consult with the next discouraged minister, many of us, including myself, understand that mission is not about ourselves, but others.  Not receiving, but giving.  Not sitting in a religious facility, but going out into the world to share what we have received from God, to give and share with others.  Amen.

That’s why I’m only a little sad.  Callahan

 

From today’s New York Times –

“It couldn’t have hit a tree? A light pole? A sign?”

SGT. MICHAEL J. LOPUZZO, the commander of the 40th Precinct detective squad, on a bullet that had traveled nearly two city blocks to strike an unintended victim, in the Bronx precinct’s 14th – and final – homicide of 2016.

It reminded me of our family’s experience with a traveling bullet we had nothing to do with, yet it visited us.  Here’s ‘pop’ from some time ago.

Last week on my early morning run police were gathered outside a home, ready for something.  It was quiet.  They were nervous.   I got the hard stare as I passed before their attention returned to the home.  Had they tracked down the random gunfire we hear at night?  It’s been quiet since.

It is unsettling to hear gunfire where it doesn’t belong.

I know that I’m supposed to, I know that I want to, but treatment of the Urban Millennium I promised a few weeks ago will need to wait.  Maybe I’ll get to it this New Year’s Day weekend.  But here’s something that at least obliquely addresses Urban Millennium.

Last month the New York Times featured Emily Badger’s article on the American rural vote in our recent election.  You will also find interesting bits such as “in 1920, for the first time, the Census Bureau counted more people living in urbanized America than in the countryside. This hasn’t been a rural nation ever since.”  This gives an idea of what is meant by the Urban Millennium.

There’s more great bits of information about urbanized America in the context of what some see as a frustrating election cycle that minimized voting power of urban Americans.  Check it out.

populous states subsidize less populous ones, which receive more resources than the tax dollars they send to Washington”

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my view on Fairbanks one rainy Chicago day a few years ago

Just a quick note.

Last Wednesday at 5:27 AM gunshots interrupted my morning quiet time of reading, meditation and prayer.

I heard 8 gunshots in rapid succession.  They sounded one or two blocks away.

We regularly hear gunshots especially in the middle of the night.  They wake us though most of the time they are several blocks away.  But last week’s gunfire was closer than usual.

We have no idea what is the shooters’ targets.  We do not hear news of someone hurt.  Is this simply the random firing of guns?

Whatever it may be, it is unsettling.

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Yesterday morning several Salvation Army leaders gathered in the first floor front room of 2753 Arsenal.  For Gail and me, that’s a two minute walk from our home.  For others it meant a few hours of driving from Peoria, Chicago, Kansas City.

Urbana Temple Houses

This is vintage (2009).  The first promo material put together by Steve Diaz and John Aho.  Temple Houses have grown and developed but it all started with this.

We came together to share about the experience of life together in the missional community we call Temple Houses.  TH is one part of the Urban Mission Center based in St Louis.  The Center prepares missional leaders for the Urban Millennium.  This takes place in opportunities for formation here in our St Louis Benton Park West neighborhood.  Gail and Sara are also part of a team developing the distance-learning component for Olivet Nazarene University‘s urban ministry program.

Yesterday inaugurated the Center’s first innovators forum.  We expected five or six individuals.  17 came together for six hours of presentation and discussion.

With coffee and John’s Donuts Sara started with a virtual tour of Benton Park West neighborhood. She used the six postures for missional living, a model Jon Huckins has taught us and found in his book Thin Places.  Then, questions about the nuts and bolts of creating and sustaining our particular Temple House community.  Sara did a fine job of leading us through the day, and feeding us; she makes a great chili.

Gail and I walked home and talked.  What next?  We agreed that it will be seen in Peoria, Chicago, Kansas City and other cities as God’s people find innovative ways to join His mission in this amazing Urban Millennium.

So, what is the Urban Millennium?

Gail calls this the fancy pants gate.

This entrance leads to a gated community within the Lafayette Park neighborhood here in St Louis.  This gate is located where else but on Park Avenue.

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about to cross the Mississippi into Illinois.  on our way to our Sunday-going-to-church with the East St Louis Corps.

With construction closures we had to take alternate routes this morning on our way to the not-so-fancy pants East St Louis IL Corps neighborhood.

Twice this past year a car has smashed through the gate and the fence to the East St Louis Salvation Army playground creating extra work for its Lieutenant AJ Zachery.  Smashed first as part of a police chase.  No one knows exactly what happened the second time.

I guess gates are subject to varying treatment depending on locale.

Some are fancy-pants.  Some aren’t.

Travis June 2016

Travis, reading scripture this morning for the East St Louis Corps.

It is a 100 degree day on our street.  I say to Gail ‘let’s walk to El Bronco‘.  We go.

We walk down Iowa.  A mother and her young daughter coming out of their home smile and greet us.  We return the greetings.  We each know not the other’s name.  But we know we are neighbors.  Neighbors walk in their neighborhoods.

Across the street three young men yell greetings to us.  We smile and I give thumbs up.

At Cherokee we turn west.  Cumulonimbus overhead arriving from the west.  Are we going to get wet walking home?

Our usual.  A chimichanga for her.  For me the two taco lunch special which you can order anytime.  Not fancy, but simple goodness.  The place quieter than usual.  Heat has people down.   Not us.  We have to eat.

Tonight Gail tells me that she wishes she knew the names of El Bronco staff.  Our waitress.

When she comes to collect our bill I ask ‘what is your name?’  She always has a warm smile for us.  But now her smile turns beatific, more intensely warm.  As if ‘I’ve been waiting for you to find out’.  As if we just gave her a gift.  Her name is Maylee.  I introduce us.  ‘Phil and Gail’.  That smile is with her as she leaves our table.

During my first taco (steak, onions and cilantro wrapped in two warm corn tortillas drizzled with lime) I happen to look up and notice that Pastor Dave is with the group of men that had entered a few minutes earlier.  We catch each others attention, wordlessly exchange waves.  After paying our bill we go over and Dave introduces his three guests.  The men are visiting from Springfield MO, Denver, and Kansas City. We chat a little.  They ask about our Salvation Army work.  Pastor Dave asks what Salvation Army people think about Sara Johnson’s Democratic Party committeewoman campaign (enthusiastic).  He also asks about our son, John.  John introduced us to Pastor Dave a couple years ago.  John knows everyone in Benton Park West and everyone knows John.

We leave El Bronco.  The sky has grown darker with clouds.  We start up California.  Thunder.

I say to Gail ‘show me the grapes’.  She told me about them a few days ago, grapes that finally have appeared on a vine John put up a few years ago behind the Salvation Army Temple Corps.  Rain sprinkles, but I want to see the grapes.

We turn east on Juniata and jog to the left down an alley to a trellis.

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Will they survive?  When some unknown passerby notices that they are starting to look good …

Across the street Miss Gigi sitting outside at Booth Manor, keeping cool, notices us.  We cross the street to talk.  We all agree.  The grapes look promising.  For now Miss Gigi is keeping an eye on them.  She will put up a little fence with a sign.  She tells us that should be enough to help people respect the grapes.  We believe her.  Miss Gigi has authority.

The rain starts to fall.   Miss Gigi sends us off.  We pick up the pace.  The wind has too, the air cooling.  But before going inside I need to inspect Gail’s flowers.  She noticed today that the black-eyed Susans she and Sara planted a few weeks ago are doing well.

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Inside, before the heavy rain begins, ends, leaving a quiet St Louis sky.

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I tell people that this is the first time in a long time that I have lived in and felt like part of a neighborhood.  The experience of walking to a restaurant.  Of meeting and visiting with people I know.  It makes me feel rich in the Holy Currency of relationship.

I like being a neighbor.

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Here on Arsenal Street I am observing our Temple House candle and prayer hour.

Each Wednesday our Temple House community lights a candle in a window at 8 PM.  For an hour we take time to pray for peace in our St Louis neighborhood.

This week I pray with the memory of 4 evenly spaced gunshots two nights ago.  The day before, Miss Gigi shook her head at our Sunday evening meal when we talked about how warmer weather means more shooting.  She pointed to the alley behind us.  They shoot back there.  Yup.

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Last week I took this photo walking home from Sara’s place.  We had finished our Tuesday meal together hosted in her home.  Over plates of enchiladas Stephen, Jessica and I had discussed how individuals who are people of color (Stephen and me) become the spokesperson for all those who look like us.  At least in the eyes of people who are not of our color.  I don’t mean just white people.  All of us tend to this simple-mindedness.  Our conversation made us more aware of our tendency.  More aware of what to overcome.  Then it was time for banana bread and fresh strawberries with whipped cream.

The weather has been great here in St Louis.  I’ll soon begin my fourth summer here and after years of Chicago summers can’t say that it’s any stickier, hotter here.  The sky over St Louis can be dramatic with cumulonimbus clouds and storm fronts that rush through.

Drama.  Living in a neighborhood with gunshots a regular feature causes a person to take the shooting a little less seriously.  A few months ago during an early Sunday morning run I heard gunshots, listened carefully, gauged them to be from one direction several blocks away, and corrected my running course in another direction.  Simple.

A little less serious.  Cavalier?  That, among other reasons, is why on Wednesday evenings we light a candle and pray.

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Sunday evening in Temple Gardens for a grand cookout and potluck.  Behind us to the right is the alley about which Miss Gigi just shakes her head.

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